These clues hold the key to the 23-year-old manhunt of a fugitive bank scammer

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This report is part of a three-part Hulu Original “Have You Seen That Man?” which begins on March 24. It follows the US Marshals’ ongoing mission to find John Ruffo, who engineered one of the most outlandish frauds in US history, disappeared in 1998 and was never found. Ruffo’s case was first featured on Season 2 of the ABC News podcast, “Have You Seen This Man?”, hosted by “The View’s” Sunny Hostin.

It’s a case that has baffled investigators for two decades.

John Ruffo was due to begin his 17-year prison sentence in 1998 for being convicted of numerous charges, including wire fraud and money laundering, for a scheme that defrauded more than $350 million from numerous banks. But he fled after returning his anklet.

He has been on the run for over 23 years.

The computer engineer and businessman baffled everyone around him, from his wife and colleagues to investigators and even his own attorney.

ABC News Studios takes a look at the global manhunt for Ruffo in the Hulu Original series “Have You Seen This Man,” which premieres March 24. The three-part series is based on the second season of the ABC News podcast of the same name hosted by Sunny Hostin of “The View.”

Investigators, Ruffo’s family and his closest confidants provided ABC News with insight into Ruffo’s state of mind and access to all of the possible avenues they considered in their search.

“We find people all the time who have been on the run for over 20 years. It happens. But it’s hard, because you’re talking about a gentleman who has totally gone unnoticed,” said Eric Runk, the US Marshals. “, the acting deputy chief of the international investigations branch told ABC News.

Here are some of the main clues presented in the series that investigators believe are key to finding Ruffo.

Appearance

Ruffo, 67, was last described by authorities as 5ft 4in and weighing 170lbs. He was bald and had a mustache and wore thick-rimmed glasses for most of his life.

Carmine Pascale, Ruffo’s cousin, alerted authorities when he thought he saw a man resembling Ruffo sitting behind home plate during a Los Angeles Dodgers-Boston Red Sox game on August 5, 2016. The U.S. Marshals released the image from the TV broadcast in October 2021. But 48 hours later, they determined that the subject in question was not Ruffo.

“It gets frustrating. Especially any time you get a name you think it’s going to be that, or at least one more step,” said Deputy U.S. Marshal Paterno Valdenor, a Los Angeles-based marshal who has been following the tip, told ABC News. “In this particular case, every name that I got, every name that I checked off, is a little bit further.”

One of the most recent leads in the investigation was something Ruffo couldn’t change so easily: his feet. Ruffo had extremely short and extremely wide feet, a shoe size 8EEE. According to investigators, anyone needing shoes of this size should place a custom order.

Skills and qualities

Ruffo told tall stories and half-truths to almost everyone he knew, according to investigators. The FBI said Ruffo once claimed he worked for the CIA and was also captured by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.

Former Deputy U.S. Marshal Barry Boright told ABC News that Ruffo was “a pathological liar.”

“He was a crook. Half of everything in his life was a lie,” he said.

Ruffo’s knack for exaggeration was a key part of his multi-million dollar scheme. He teamed up with former Phillip Morris executive Edward Reiners and sought funding from various banks for a bogus proposal dubbed “Project Star”, which claimed to develop smokeless cigarettes.

Ruffo forged documents to obtain more than $350 million in loans and other funding which he and his accomplices used to speculate in the stock market and spend on lavish gifts.

The scheme was discovered in 1996 when one of the banks noticed an irregularity in the documents and contacted the authorities.

U.S. Marshals said they believe he could still use those skills today to maintain his new identity.

“You just think about how much we know about him and how capable he was of lying and living a double life,” US Marshals Senior Inspector Chris Leuer, who is overseeing the Ruffo case, told ABC News. .

Internal help?

The FBI hired Ruffo and his company, CCS, to work in the early ’90s, ABC News has learned. Part of Ruffo’s business was used as a front company, with agents placed inside, to lend legitimacy to the operation.

This operation was to hunt down the Soviets.

Ruffo’s connections resurfaced during the federal investigation into his scheme.

During an FBI-led raid on Ruffo’s office, agents found a photo of him with the Deputy Director of the FBI’s New York office and their swat team.

Runk said the FBI did not initially inform US Marshals of Ruffo’s role as an FBI informant.

“The day he didn’t turn himself in and he left the country, I think to this day there must be someone in that FBI who helped him escape,” he said. former CCS employee John Von Ahnen told ABC News.

Foreign links

On the day he was supposed to report to prison, Ruffo rented a car, which was later found in the long-term parking lot at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Investigators suspect he may have fled the United States and may be hiding overseas. Ruffo had traveled to Italy several times and had a love for his ancestral home, according to investigators.

After Ruffo fled, his now ex-wife Linda Lausten searched his old suits and found the name and address in Italy of his former New York barber in one of the pockets.

The barber moved to a small town along the southeast coast of Italy years before Ruffo escaped. ABC News visited him at his Italian home, but the former barber said he hadn’t seen Ruffo and didn’t remember him.

Ruffo wrote in his diary of alleged dealings with a Soviet computer engineer whose defection was sought by US officials. ABC News spoke to a man who claimed to be the Russian national who corroborated some of Ruffo’s stories but denied other claims made by the fugitive.

While investigators aren’t ruling out the idea that a foreign entity may have assisted the fugitive, they admitted it was an extremely difficult lead to pursue.

“I really don’t think the Russians would tell us even if they knew where he was,” Runk said. “Or maybe they’re hiding it. I don’t know, I don’t want to guess.”

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